Sunset on Rattanakosin Island

The core of Bangkok is the old city, the section of Phra Nakhon district known as Rattanakosin Island. It was here, in 1782, that King Rama I established Krung Thep Maha Nakhon – what we foreigners call Bangkok.  In addition to being the home of the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and many government buildings, there are many vibrant communities on Rattanakosin Island and plenty of great food. The other evening, I took a canal boat into the old city as a brilliant sunset bathed the City of Angels (for that is what the Thai name for Bangkok means) in gold.

This is a fascinating little neighborhood nestled just next to Fort Mahakan (see the map below) looking east towards Wat Sakhet, also known as Golden Mount. Fort Mahakan is one of only two forts that remain from the original 14 that defended the old city. Wat Sakhet itself predates Bangkok by many years, but the man-made hill was built during the reign of King Rama III. It was originally meant to be a giant chedi, or stupa, but the ground could not support the structure and it collapsed mid-construction. Over many years, it was covered with brush and locals came to refer to it as “Phu Khao” or Golden Mount. Under King Rama V (late 1800s), a small chedi was built on top of the hill and is said to contain relics of the Buddha, brought from India.

Looking the opposite direction from nearly the same spot as the first picture, you see a plaza with a statue of King Rama III. Wat Ratchanadda is in the background. This plaza used to be filled with a grand old cinema – the Chalerm Thai (pics here) – that was torn down in 1989 to create more inviting views along Ratchadamnoen Avenue. While I generally hate the idea of destroying old single-screen movie palaces, the view at this important corner was definitely improved with its removal.

A few blocks away, we stopped for an early dinner on a small soi just off Thanon Tanao, is the center of the map below, right north of the intersection of Thanon Bamrung Mueang. This cute little neighborhood, called Phraeng Phuton, features one of the first automobile repair shops in Thailand (still in business and has a collection of classic Aston-Martins and Mercedes parked inside) and it was also Bangkok’s first driver’s license bureau. 

This is one of the corners of the city, just a few blocks away from the noisy (and very foreign) Khao San Road backpacker neighborhood, that deserves more attention from visitors to Thailand. In many ways, it is a time capsule, very easy to slip back and see what life was like in Bangkok many decades ago.

The Wikipedia map, in case you want to reference the locations of the above pictures. Original and larger versions here.

Getting to Know Me

the-king-and-i-799367 There’s a very ancient saying, and a true and honest thought, that if you become a teacher by your pupils you’ll be taught.  As a teacher I’ve been learning – you’ll forgive me if I boast – but I’ve now become an expert in the subject I like most: getting to know you.”

                                                from “The King and I” by Rodgers and Hammerstein

Perusing my feedback log, I noticed that there are a lot of new faces (or footprints!) on my blog.  In fact, no fewer than ten new subscribers have signed up in the past eight days and 23 since the start of the year, bringing the total to just about 300.  Yikes!  Where did you all come from?

One of the things that’s always a challenge for me when I start following someone’s blog is understanding who they are.  Much like entering the cinema halfway through a movie, joining a blog that is already in progress leaves a lot of questions unanswered.  “Who is that person?”  “What vacation is he talking about?”  “What horrible illness happened two years ago?”

Matt suggested a few months ago that going back and browsing through earlier entries is a good way to round out your knowledge about a blogger.  That’s a good idea but I’m afraid my back entries have a lot of chaff amongst the grain.  To save you the trouble of having to winnow through my archives, I’ll give you a brief introduction of myself along with embedded links to interesting and relevant previous entries.  That way you can do as much or little catching up as you wish to do.

Allow me to introduce myself…

My name is Chris.  I’m an American citizen who was born in 1970 and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Since October 2005 I have been a resident of Bangkok, Thailand (which I often refer to using its Thai name, Krungthep) where I live with my husband Tawn.

I started this blog a few months before moving here.  Its initial (and continued) purpose was to provide my family and friends an easy way to keep tabs on what I’m up to and the experiences I have as an expatriate.  A lot of what I write is about that experience.

Chris at the Elephant Kraal in Ayutthaya province.

I’ve written about my thoughts about possibly moving back.  I’ve written about what it’s like to live in Thailand.  I’ve been studying Thai since moving here and now read, write, speak and even sometimes understand the language.  Living abroad has a lot of challenges.  For example, learning to cross the street without getting killed!  Other challenges have included making friends in a strange land and dealing with fellow countrymen whose views on being an American rubbed me the wrong way.


Living here has provided so many wonderful adventures.  I’ve done a lot of bicycling to explore the city and surrounding areas, resulting in some interesting and unexpected misadventures.  For more than a year, I volunteered as an English teacher once a week at a tiny country schoolhouse ninety minutes outside Krungthep.  I discovered the schoolhouse on one of my bike rides, had a great time teaching there, and concluded the assignment when the director of the school retired.  They even included me in their Teachers’ Day ceremonies, which was a great honor.

My students at Bangkhonthiinai School in Samut Songkhram province.

Along the way, we celebrated the 60th anniversary of His Majesty the King’s reign (the longest reigning current monarch in the world, by the way!).  We had a coup.  My parents and some other family members came to visit.   Tawn and I bought and remodeled a condo.  And we hosted a lovely poolside Thanksgiving dinner.

Watching the royal barge procession to celebrate the King’s anniversary.

Of all the writing I’ve done about Thailand, though, the one that has received the most views was one I wrote about the debate over teenage castration, a practice common in young Thai men who feel that they are transsexuals.  For some reason, there are a lot of people who Google “teenage castration” and it seems my entry is pretty high up in the results.

As I mentioned, I live with my husband Tawn.  We were married last August in the United States although we’ve been together for more than ten years.  The story about how we met is a sweet one, deserving of a movie screenplay.  After we first met, Tawn lived and studied for his master’s degree in San Francisco.  Now that I’ve been here in Thailand for more than four years, I’ve spent more time living here than Tawn spent living in the US!

Tawn and I a few days after meeting in January 2000.

When viewing those entries, you might notice that Tawn is a man and so am I.  While I don’t feel the need to make a big fuss about it, it seems that my being gay is a matter of fact that comes up quite often.  For example, when we wanted to get married in California but couldn’t because 52% of the voters thought we shouldn’t have that legal right.

But this blog isn’t all about love and marriage and Thailand and politics.  The real undercurrent of this blog is food.  I’m a foodie.  Not only do I enjoy eating, I love to cook.  I particularly enjoy trying foods I’ve never made before, just to see if I can.  Bagels, French macarons, pasta, baking bread – I’ll try cooking or baking anything just to see if I can.

My friend Ryan and I buying bánh mì from a vendor in Saigon.

In addition to food, I love travel and enjoy meeting new people.  I’ve had the chance to meet several other Xangans both in their hometowns and here in Thailand.  Tawn and I have been fortunate (not having children makes it easier…) to be able to travel a lot.  We had a fun trip to Tokyo last spring, a trip to Saigon a few years back with a dear school friend, a trip to Seoul the winter I arrived in Krungthep, and a honeymoon in New York City, just to name a few destinations.

So that’s me in a nutshell.  There’s so much more I could write and so much more I’ve already written.  But I’m glad we’ve had a chance to meet and I hope you’ll enjoy reading my blog.

Which brings me to one more thing… one of the things I most appreciate in a subscriber is interaction.  We’re all busy, I get that.  But when people subscribe and never, ever leave a comment, it makes me wonder what interests them about my blog.  It’s a little freaky, in fact.  And when people send a friend request but have never commented even once?  Well, that’s not much of a start to friendship.

So don’t be shy, people.  I’m not asking for a lot, but a bit of interaction and an occasional comment means a lot for me and I think it strengthens the sense of community here at Xanga.

Best wishes,



My, How The Neighborhood Changes

Browsing the posts on, there was an interesting collection of old photos of Krungthep, many taken by servicemen who were hear during the Vietnam War era, as well as those taken by others.


One photo that caught my attention was this one, dated 1957.  It is taken at the intersection of Rama I and Phaya Thai Roads, looking east.  (Google Map here)  There used to be a traffic circle – gone now – and the green area on the left is where the Siam Discovery, Sian Center and Siam Paragon malls are. 

Between the time of this picture and today, the land that was Siam Paragon was home to the beautiful old Siam Intercontinental Hotel.  This landmark, with lush tropical gardens and a unique roof line, opened in 1968 and then was torn down in 2002 to make was for Siam Paragon.

After seeing this photo, I decided to go seek out the same vantage point and see how fifty years have changed the landscape.


Now you see the Skytrain track, an elevated pedestrian walkway and, upper left, the office building that is part of the Siam Discovery complex.  MBK mall is off to the right of the picture.

Would be interesting to see more “now and then” photos.

While walking from BTS National Stadium Skytrain station to this photo site, I watched a pick-up football game (Thai pronunciaton: foot-BON) played on a concrete pitch.  Thought the colors were interesting.


The Thais love their footbon!


Confronting the reality of southern violence

Many of you may be aware, at least in a general way, of the ongoing violence in southern Thailand.  From time to time I receive questions from friends and family about my safety, usually after a particular bombing or other incident makes its way into the international media.

SNC10076 This violence, with its deep roots and multiple causes, has claimed more than 2,700 lives in the past four years and completely disrupted life in the three southernmost provinces, an area that was already economically distressed.

I won’t go into the history or a detailed discussion of the insurgency – there’s a well-written article here on Wikipedia – but I was confronted by the reality of it, in a very unexpected way, a few weeks ago at Don Meuang Airport. 

In the lobby, set against a wall, is an acrylic box collecting donations to buy bullet-proof vests for policemen and teachers.

One of the biggest impacts on the south has been the closure of schools.  As symbols of the government, schools and teachers are often targeted for violence.  Schools are bombed, teachers are beheaded and their bodies burned – affecting both Muslim and Buddhist communities and students.

Starting in November 2006, schools in the three southernmost provinces were indefinitely shut down.  To this day, many of the schools are still closed primarily because very few people are willing to be teachers there.  Teachers have transferred out of the provinces or quit altogether, for fear of their lives.

It is a terrible situation.  Sadly, donation boxes may not be the best way to protect people there.  Based on the contents of the box (pictured below), I’m not putting a lot of faith in it.


Here’s to a hope that one day, people learn to live in peace.  It may be a futile hope, but I still have it.